Thursday, 28 April 2016

Allergy free baby foods

Another notable find from the NOPE show which I attended earlier this month (see previous blog here) was the new Babease range of baby foods.

There are over a dozen products, divided into Stage 1 (4+ months) and Stage 2 (7+ months), and all are free of the top 14 allergens (EU) and top 8 allergens (US) - with no precautionary allergen labelling warnings either. Only gluten free and dairy free are claimed on pack, I was told by the team behind the launch, because these are the only two allergens actually tested. The production factory is nut, peanut, sesame and soya free.

Stage 1 products are 'smooth', and Stage 2 are 'textured' - and some use ingredients which have become popular in free from circles, such as coconut water and quinoa. The products are vegetable (and fruit) based, use brown rice and sweet potato as starchy components, and include some other ingredients which you might not normally see in the baby food market - such as fennel and puy lentils.

It's important to bear in mind the current official advice with regard to weaning and allergies - and that it is subject to change, in part due to the ongoing EAT study, and other research.

The World Health Organisation advise six months exclusive breastfeeding, and this is presently supported by the Department of Health, who say that babies can get all the nutrition they need from breastmilk (or infant formula). Weaning onto purees or mashes of parsnip, carrot, pear and sweet potato - considered low- or non-allergenic - is advised from six months, while maintaining breastfeeding or formula. Allergens (eg soya, milk, nuts, wheat, eggs) should be introduced from six months onwards, individually, with a gap of three days between each new introduction, in order to carefully track any possible subsequent reactions.

There is, however, little evidence that delaying weaning of allergenic foods prevents the development of allergy, and EAT is looking at whether introducing solids from four months may have a long-term protective effect against allergies. The thinking does appear to be shifting towards this direction - that allergenic foods should not be delayed - and perhaps that early introduction should be encouraged.

So although allergen-free products such as Babease may offer terrific convenience in the early days of weaning, perhaps have a role to play when you're introducing allergenic foods in small amounts and in a controlled way, and are obviously useful if your paediatrician, allergist or paediatric dietitian has advised you to delay allergen introduction, or indeed if your baby is diagnosed early with a food allergy - remember that it is not considered wise to protect your baby from oral exposure to allergenic foods for as long as possible!

Babease products are available from Amazon (UK and US), Ocado (UK), and via the Babease site.

For Allergy UK advice on weaning, click here.
For NHS advice on weaning, click here.
For Coeliac UK weaning advice, click here.
For information about the EAT Study, click here
For other allergen-free brands, click here

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

FreeFrom Food Awards 2016

I've lost count of the number of FreeFrom Food Awards I've now 'live tweeted' - four, five? - but it seems to get busier and more frenetic year after year!

We always ask that attendees and other interested parties use the hashtag - this year it was #FFFA16 - and most participants obligingly do - but add to that our handle (@FFFoodAwards) and a number of other related accounts (@FoodsMatter @FreeFromFood) which many use, and it adds up to a sequence of fast-moving streams with dozens upon dozens of notifications a minute that, while satisfying to witness, can be almost comically unmanageable during moments where bursts of activity take place. Apologies if I missed your witty comment or keen observation ...

As always, it was great fun being online last night at the Royal College of Physicians for the presentation of these, now the 9th awards - and every year people too far to travel or not lucky enough to be attending tell me how entertaining they find the live Twitter feed. So it's always worth the inevitable RSI hangover next day ...

Reflecting on the notifications now, it strikes me that we had more non-obviously-free from folk taking part or following with interest - general foodies, and some media folk, and health bloggers seemed to figure among the RTers and new followers. That's a good thing, right? Something the Awards' constant supporter over the years - Antony Worrall Thompson - said after he had presented deserved winners Nutribix's two Richards with Marble Mo (above) was that "free from people should not be seen as niche people but normal people" - and we need "normal" people to take more of an interest in these "niche" foods to understand that, yes, free from is normal - and often delicious, innovative and versatile too.

Regular readers will know I'm not a fan of selling 'free from' as healthier on false or unproven grounds - for instance, that gluten is 'toxic' to all, or that milk is 'unnecessary' (is soya milk 'necessary'?) but I am keen on the word spreading to non food-sensitives that there are new tastes to be enjoyed in free from, and that you can bring variety into your diet by embracing it a little - without going to the extreme of eliminating a food when you don't need to. I'm one who can eat anything, and I have oat milk and cow milk in the fridge. I have cashew cheese from the Natural and Organic Products Show Europe (more on that another day) and I have some regular Dutch cheese too. I have barley and quinoa in my store cupboard. This is 'normal'.

Anyway, my vantage point on the balcony, where I was located with my laptop, offered a bird's eye of all the leading lights in 'free from' catching up on the floor below - manufacturers, bloggers, judges, journalists, nutritionists and dietitians. The Italian in me likes to people-watch, and it's easy to forget how many friendships have been forged at these events over the years; the more sprawling and less structured but equally essential Allergy Show aside, there really is no gathering like it for networking in free from. So I was lucky to get to see bloggers and judges who have become firm friends, and meet others I've only ever 'chatted' with online. And to those who very politely admired my waistcoat (above right), all I can say is a/ 20p from a jumble sale and b/ witness White Rabbit Pizza's Nick's (above left - winner in the Pasta and Pizza category), who outwaistcoated me good and proper. I'll be back next year ....

A shout out to my mate and fellow finalist judge Simon Wright for ensuring that my beer levels did not drop below critical during the live tweet - and for keeping me good company for a portion of it - and to colleagues Michelle, Cressida and Hannah - who ran the show with aplomb, and from whom I have learned an invaluable amount since I've known them and befriended them.

And finally, although there are no losers here - just being shortlisted is an achievement - and Awards like this only tend to be remembered for its notable winners, I'll leave you with this, perhaps my favourite tweet from the last 24 hours. Not everyone can win an award, of course, but everyone who doesn't make the podium, can do so with some grace in 'defeat'. 'Free from' supporting 'free from' is the way 'free from' will get stronger, don't you think?
For a list of winners, click here.
For photos of the evening, click here.

Monday, 25 April 2016

New FreeFrom Foods at Natural and Organic Products Europe

A belated round-up of a selection of new free-from food finds from the NOPE Show 2016 held at Excel, East London, earlier this month. I'll be blogging (or posting on Facebook) about other products of particular interest individually over the coming week or so.

As always, it was a buzzing show, with exhibitors far more knowledgeable this year, it seemed to me, with respect to allergens - and not only gluten-containing cereals, but others too, which is an excellent development for those with nut, egg, milk and soya allergies, especially. It's not specifically a 'free from' show, of course, but many exhibitors appear to have wised up to this sector and the importance of being both confident and knowledgeable with respect to food hypersensitivities.

First up, pasta. Five 'flavours' of Really Healthy Pasta were on show - red lentil, mung bean, chickpea, buckwheat & flaxseed, and blackbean - and each available in two shapes - fusili (twists) and penne (tubes). They're gluten-free and made in a soya-free environment too. Most are essentially single-ingredient products, they're a good source of protein, and there is some very specific allergy-aware labelling...

For instance, the mung bean pasta - which I've tried and enjoyed - is "free from ... celery, cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, lupin, milk or its derivatives, mollusks (sic), mustard, soybean or its derivatives, sulphur dioxide, wheat or its derivatives".

There is, though, a precautionary allergen warning: "May contain: nuts or sesame seeds".

You can find them on Amazon, or at Good Health Naturally UK and Good Health Naturally US.

Allergen Free Professional / Barcelonesa / Vegetall is a Spanish company / brand which is confirmed free from all top 14 allergens - and currently offers vegan mayonnaises and other condiments / sauces both for food service and consumers. Ice creams are in development.

Although they're not yet distributed in the UK, they're included here merely because they had a prominent position at the show, clearly displaying their '14 free' status, and because I liked their 'crossed allergen' symbols - all 14 of them (see right) - which it will be interesting to see whether other brands adopt in future.

I discovered Zootfoods at a previous show - perhaps last year's - and very much liked their fruit, seed, chocolate and nut bars - which to my mind were actually better (moister, essentially) than the much more widely known and established Nakd bars.

At the show this year, they were launching Zoot Zero - no added sugar chocolate - which is sweetened with stevia, and with maltitol (so low-FODMAP folk should probably avoid as it's a polyol).

There are three dark varieties - Smooth Dark, Zesty Orange, and Hint of Mint - and also a Creamy Milk. Interestingly, the products are certified free from added sugars by Sugarwise, a new food certification programme. They are also gluten free - as are all their other bars, which are mostly dairy free too.

Paleo Treats Europe are just arriving in the UK. They were launching three new chilled sweet snack products - the Brownie Bomb (honey, eggs, coconut, cacao and nuts), Cacao Now (coconut, egg, honey, cacao and vanilla), and the Mustang Bar (nuts/nut butters, raisins, seeds, coconut, vanilla, honey and sea salt) - all of which gluten, milk, soya and refined-sugar free. Despite my general dislike of the term paleo, the premise on which it is marketed, and the unproven health claims made for the regimen, I did find these tasty.

At the time of writing, you can sign up on their site for news of their launch, and further products are expected in 2017.

More paleo, with the launch of the Lucy Rocks Paleo range of products by Alara, already known for their organic and gluten-free cereals.

Any ingredient which has never been described as a superfood looks to have been banished from the five-strong range: Lush Crunch contains raw sprouted buckwheat, green tea matcha, barley grass, spirulina, mulberries, lucuma, hemp, pumpkin seeds and cashews, and the nutritional virtuosity shines out of all the other products too - Blush Crunch (baobab, beetroot ...), Chia Super Soak (cacao nibs, goji ...), Golden Granola (lucuma, apricots ...) and Glowing Granola (apple, beetroot ...). I'm assuming the range is aimed primarily at women, but this non-woman has enjoyed the samples he took home with him!

I'm unclear when the range officially launches, but it's got eye-catching and well designed packaging, is also vegan and free from refined sugars. The promotional leaflet mentions some 'innovative bars' so expect those too at some point.

Good vegan 'milk' chocolate is not easy to come by, so I was pleased to come across German brand iChoc, which uses 'ricedrink' to impart milkiness to their dairy-free chocolate products - which are also 100% organic.

Unfortunately, they are not particularly free from - the 'may contain traces of nuts, milk and gluten' rule the chocolate out for most allergic or intolerant consumers - but they are soya free and would be suitable for anyone who has a lactose intolerance or is on low FODMAP.

I'm not normally a big fan of milk chocolate, but this was among the best I've tasted for a while - especially the Almond Orange - and certainly better than some of the milk-free 'milk' chocolate products available in the UK.

Shame about the precautionary milk warning, though.

Best of the rest
Coconuts Nice Cream - 14 allergens-free 'creamy coconut nice cream' - made only with coconut cream, unrefined coconut sugar and coconut flakes.

Creative Nature - have launched 14 allergens-free Chia & Cacao Brownie Mix and Chia & Mulberry Muffin Mix.

Delightful Organic - launching mid-late 2016, a range of vegan sauces and pestos.

Enjoy Raw Chocolate - soya, dairy, gluten and refined sugar free; vegan and handmade.

Morlife - Australian brand, offering healthy and tasty looking ready-made quinoa 'risotto' meals in pouches.

Mrs O's Fuss Free Mixes - Egg-free, nut free and vegan cake mixes, also available in gluten free.

Nature Crops - wide range of quinoa-based products (flakes, flour, bars, puffs etc).

Probios GoVegan - launching into the UK, including a vegan croissant.

Saf Raw - Rebranding from Saf Express, with a colourful new look, and offering raw goods such as activated crackers, fruity coconut pastilles and nutty nori. GF and DF.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

It's all about the ebooks!

When ebooks first came along, I never expected to ever have much to do with them, and this position wasn't revised even when, first, my book on food intolerance was made available on Kindle, and then subsequently, so was the one on coeliac disease. Both do quite well (even though the first urgently needs a revision), and I'm glad they exist.

But lately ebooks have been taking up more of my time. Excuse the off-topic diversion, but some of you may know I also tutor writing part-time, and at the end of last year, self-published an ebook, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make - aimed at new and aspiring freelance writers trying to make a living writing for the web, for magazines and for papers. In a nutshell: it's a book which aims to point out where beginners may be going wrong, and gives them pointers to putting those errors right.

More recently, I've been editing and formatting a new book called the Allergy Catering Manual, written by my regular working colleague and editor, and director of the FreeFrom Awards, Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, and which previously existed in print form, but has now been thoroughly revised and updated, to incorporate recent years' allergen regulation changes in the EU. It is aimed at all caterers, restaurateurs and food service providers who wish to improve their allergy-friendly offer to customers - and do so safely while adhering to those all-important laws. We've just released the book this month, and you can buy it here from Amazon, priced for a limited period at £3.99.

We're not the only ones in the free from community to have jumped aboard the ebookwagon, of course, and in fact we've done so rather later than others! For instance, Samantha Stein - better known to many of you as The Happy Coeliac - has published Gluten Free Bites: Backyard BBQ and a Gluten Free Baking at Christmas, and, although she has been pretty modest about it, Carly Talbot - gfreeb to friends and readers - has self-published B's Kitchen Table: Gluten & Dairy Free Family Recipes.

Michelle is planning to publish a book on histamine intolerance by Dr Janice Joneja - a regular and valued contributor to the site's histamine section - but she is also exploring the possibility of compiling some recipe books, and is currently surveying FoodsMatter readers on the matter. Do take two minutes to complete the straightforward questionnaire, if you can.

But before you do that, I need your help too. I've got a bunch of ideas for ebooks, but what would you - as someone with, or parenting someone with, coeliac disease, food allergy or food intolerance - like to see issued as an ebook? What would you find practical, useful, or even enjoyable? Or do you prefer print books, without exception?

I'm considering a guide to allergy and 'free from' labelling. I see the same queries cropping up on social media - many of them directed at the overworked allergy / coeliac charities - and wonder whether a brief, no-nonsense ebook on the rules and common sticking points might prove popular and useful?

Let me know what you think - and your thoughts about ebooks in general - including whether you've released or you're planning to release one of your own ...

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland: view from a chair

Last Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Dublin, having been invited to chair a day and a half's worth of judging sessions for the inaugural FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland, launched at the end of 2015 by John Burke of GF Life Ireland, a long-standing fellow judge on the FreeFrom Food Awards (UK). It was a maiden visit to Ireland, and I was taking over from David Johnstone and the FFFA UK's Michelle, who had been chairing on Monday and Tuesday (read Michelle's write up here).

The Irish format was very similar to the established British one. During a category session, panels of between 8 and 12 blind taste all entries individually, and in relative quiet (so as to not influence others), writing down their thoughts and giving marks out of ten - on the basis of such factors as taste, innovation, nutritional profile, usefulness, originality and more. Ingredients are available to judges (so the food sensitive can avoid any allergens), and at the end marks are totalled and results are used as a springboard to detailed discussion - sometimes heated! - before final decisions are made.

I have redoubled respect for Michelle, who unflappably chairs two long weeks' worth of such sessions in London, year in, year out, and remains full of energy throughout. It's not that chairing is especially difficult, per se, but it does demand concentration: that you remain fully alert to conversation and judges' mood when decisions have to be closed in on, and that you highlight any matters that may not have been given due consideration - given that the natural inclination is to heavily weight in favour of taste. Such aspects may include precautionary allergen warnings, numbers of free from claims, suitability to a wider 'free from' consumership, usefulness, innovation and nutritional profile.

I felt it important to challenge decisions, not to get judges to necessarily change their minds, or for no other reason than pure wilful disagreement, but instead to ensure they were secure and confident in their choices. If decisions are right, they should stand up to scrutiny - which mostly, but not exclusively, they did.

It's also vital for judges to understand how important their undertaking is. A win for a small company can mean a phone call from a large supermarket. Wider distribution can - it is no exaggeration - not only change the livelihoods of the company manufacturing the product and its staff, but also the lives of those on restricted diets. Decisions are important, carry responsibility, and shouldn't be rushed.

A row of artisanal Irish treats
I met a great bunch of people - which is really what made the trip for me - including Wholefood Revolution's Michelle (whose arrangements of entries on napkins were an artistic highlight) blogger Donna, aka Gluten Free Cailin ('cailin' being Irish for 'girl'), Maria, editor of Slainte Magazine ('slainte' being Irish for 'health') - and too many others. Gaelic pronunciation was a glorious education, in fact - those words are pronounced, approximately, caleen and slancher, but neither was as much of an eye-opener as Baile Atha Cliath - the Gaelic for Dublin - which, my garrulous cabbie reliably informed me, should be rendered as, again approximately, barley-uh ah-ha clia.

Of the discoveries at the table, there was a diverse (and rich) collection of artisanal cakes and treats (above left), some unusual raw / vegan chocolates - as well as a seaweed-flavoured chocolate - a two-dozen strong panel of crisps and snacks (from which I'm still recovering - although most of them were impossibly moreish) and some pretty good Christmas offerings, which, despite the Spring sunshine, still tasted good to me. From my limited exposure and flying visit, free from in Ireland seems to be in fine fettle, although my judges told me that some products (eg polenta, Nutribix) still either hadn't yet arrived or were still tough to get hold of, while others (paleo / raw goods, chia, quinoa) appear to have made their mark.

What I did notice was the difficulty in finding vegan and vegetarian food-to-go options at Dublin airport - which stood out even more given the relative ease of finding GF sandwiches. In one outlet, there were abundant prepared salad options - but not one was vegetarian (each either had prawn, tuna, bacon or chicken - and sometimes more than one). I could see no vegetarian sandwiches either - bar an egg and cress one, which happened to be gluten-free. Either the veggies were flying in force that day, or you're better off as a coeliac than a meat-avoider in the Emerald Isle, it seems to me.

But as for the Awards, for a first year, the team appeared to be remarkably well organised. Well over 300 entries, I hear, is no mean feat for an inaugural batch, and that takes some organisation and management. John, ably abetted by members of his family and the terrific Emma Clarke Conway, have clearly done a mighty fine job.

Day 2 Team Shot: l-r, Donna, Ann, Evan, Shane, me, Maria, David, Jo Ann
The team insisted and reinsisted I take some food in my hand luggage before I took my leave, and I eventually gave in to the power of Irish persuasion and departed with a packet of four mince pies. I hope they'll forgive me that I left them with the same chatty Irish cab driver - who this time, on my return to the airport, regaled me with tales of Irish politics, banking woes, women's hurling, Dublin rush-hour traffic (surprisingly bad), and its architecture (much of which he appeared to credit the British for). I hope he enjoyed his pies as much as I enjoyed my trip ...

Winners of the FreeFrom Food Awards Ireland will be announced on June 9th

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Gluten Friendly Study

Researchers at the University of Roehampton, South West London, are looking for volunteers with coeliac disease to take part in a study examining the effects of so-called gluten friendly bread on gut health and the inflammatory / immune responses.

What is gluten friendly bread?
It's bread made from flour milled from hydrated wheat grain to which microwave energy has been applied. The energy ensures very high temperatures are reached, at which point a chemical reaction occurs which alters the gluten proteins, reducing their reactive potential, but without compromising the characteristics exploited in the manufacture of baked goods.

One of the researchers told us that the resulting flour "might be considered a very low gluten content flour (20-40ppm gluten)", which of course cannot be deemed gluten free, but it is believed that the modification of the proteins renders them unrecognisable to the immune system of coeliacs.

You can read more about it here.

Who are the researchers looking for?
Biopsy-confirmed coeliacs aged 30-70, living within an hour of Roehampton (Nr Putney, SW15), who have been on a gluten-free diet for at least a year, and do not have extremely high sensitivity to gluten.

Additional criteria: non-smokers, lactose tolerant, no antibiotics taken in the last six months, and without additional auto-immune diseases or recent intestinal disease (including IBS).

Other criteria apply, which researchers can give you on enquiry.

What will be required?
Initially, during assessment visit, completion of health questionnaire, consent form signature, blood screening.

If accepted, you'll be randomly allocated to consume either gluten friendly bread (portion containing either 1.5g, 3g or 6g gluten) or the placebo / control bread - to be consumed daily alongside your regular diet.

You will need to keep a five-day food/drink diary before the study begins, and both food and drink and a stool log for the study duration.

Five further appointments, with blood, stool and urine samples required, during April-June 2016.

How do I find out more?
Email Triana Bergillos-Meca, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, at

Monday, 21 March 2016

Gluten Attack by David Sanders

I was excited when Dr Alessio Fasano released the excellent Gluten Freedom in 2014 and I'm similarly excited that we've got another top international gluten expert - Professor David Sanders - about to release his first book, Gluten Attack, next month.

I've interviewed Professor Sanders a couple of times, and heard him speak a couple times more, usually at Coeliac UK conferences or seminars. He's funny, engaging and passionate about gluten-related disorders. Perhaps I'm biased, as he helped me with some sticking points when writing my own book on coeliac disease, and when I eventually sent him a copy, told me he enjoyed it - but I'm sure it'll be a great read.

I believe Sanders subscribes to the view that non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is real, and caused by an immune reaction to gluten which we have not yet fully understood. I get the sense that his colleagues at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield, think likewise - and in fact they have done a lot of work on the subject in recent years. This pits them slightly against what the prevailing view from Australian experts seems to be - which is that FODMAPs (or possibly wheat proteins other than gluten) are the primary cause of symptoms in those who feel better on a gluten-free diet yet have no evidence of coeliac disease.

It'll be interesting to see if, and how, he addresses these matters and disagreements.

Gluten Attack: Is Gluten Waging War on our Health? And if so, what can we do about it? will be released on 7th April 2016, and is available for pre-order on Amazon in both paperback and ebook formats.

Hear Professor Sanders talking about CD / NCGS on this BMJ Podcast

Friday, 4 March 2016

Think before you 'wheat free' ...

Another of the problems caused by free-from brands dissing such allergens as wheat (usually, but sometimes milk) is that fellow free-from brands are tempted to do likewise. Where Genius have led, others have followed.

I don't know much about this small free from company, and judging by the conversation which followed on Twitter today, I've no reason to believe Yummy Tummy Co's hearts are not in the right place and are merely trying to make a name for themselves in a cluttered market. But still ...

I asked what kind of results might you expect from going without wheat for a week?

And it's on that basis, apparently, that these non-dietitians have advised strangers - indiscriminately - to make a major overhaul to their diets. So common have become the 'give up wheat / dairy' messages we see these days, that it's now normal - perhaps even expected - to advise people whose medical histories you know nothing about to alter the nutrition they put into their bodies. Ditching food has become casual everyday 'common sense' advice - like 'take an umbrella'.

The trouble with free from brands entering the market without fully understanding coeliac, food allergy, food intolerance and dietetics is they fail to see how potentially dangerous such advice can be.

The initial tweet was linked to an article on coeliac disease. Giving up wheat before you're investigated for coeliac disease is the opposite of what you should do. What you should do is carry on eating wheat - and go to the doctor. Coeliac tests don't work unless there is gluten in the diet.

The problem with advice to give up wheat for a week is not so much in the recommendation, per se - I'm sure you'll be absolutely fine - but in the absence of follow-up guidance on what to do once the week is over.

What would be needed - at least - is evidence-based advice, depending on how you feel.

Because you may feel better, the same - or worse. All these possibilities I covered in a previous article on this blog, Dear Girl on Twitter, which outlines the problems of giving / taking advice to give up wheat/gluten, and of doing it without medical or dietetic support.

I don't expect free from brands to stop playing the 'wheat is bad' card anytime soon, but I don't think it's a phenomenon the 'free from' community should ignore. As I've said before, I like to see new free from brands come onto the market, and wish them well - but they've got to properly learn the subjects with which they're dealing, and they've got to play fair.

The Yummy Tummy Co make healthy-looking free from lunches for Londoners. Click into their site for more information.